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CORDER’S COLUMN: The Nappy State

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I have avoided making any public pronouncements on the abject failure of the Westminster government during the Coronavirus crisis.

Achieving both the highest death rate per capita in the world while doing the greatest economic damage are devastating statistics that speak for themselves.

No.10 and its advisers could not have been more woeful in its early response and, incredibly, they are getting worse as we reach the tail end of the pandemic.

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I have followed guidelines throughout: staying home, keeping 2 metres apart and wearing a face mask on public transport among measures to which I adhered. I also closed my office and my team of 16 have been working — brilliantly — from home.

The public’s behaviour has been excellent throughout, which is why we are finally down to around 500 new cases per day, and fewer than 80 deaths.

I have been itching to get life and business back to normal as soon as possible, but have gone at the pace set by the regulations.

Thankfully, last weekend, we were permitted to go on holiday for the first time, so I jumped in the car and drove via the Channel Tunnel to France where I spent a blissful four days in Beaune in the famous Burgundy wine region.

I was not sure what I would find, because France imposed an earlier and harder lock down, but had been open for business again for longer and its rate of new cases and deaths from Covid-19 are lower than the UK’s.

I could not have been more delighted. The town was buzzing with locals and tourists enjoying the cafes, restaurants and bars. Most were outside in the warm sunshine, but the shops were doing brisk trade and there were few restrictions. On a day trip to the city of Lyon, it was just as open and welcoming.

There were some residual signs of the pandemic, particularly in shops where the now familiar distancing stickers were used and sanitiser was available.

Whether customers were required to wear face masks in shops was at the discretion of shopkeepers, and most did not insist. In the supermarkets, the proportion of people wearing face masks was about the same as in England. In high street shops, around a quarter insisted on masks for customers. Far more had protection for their staff.

It is hard to convey just how different the town felt. I had not realised how much the lock down in England had affected my mood until I felt the euphoria of freedom. Not having to endure the BBC’s relentless fear-mongering probably helped as well.

Returning to the UK yesterday to be told that face masks are going to be mandatory was devastating.

Don’t misunderstand me, face masks might help and I do not object to wearing them per se. The issue is that, at a time when we need to breed confidence and optimism so that this consumer-driven economy starts consuming again, it felt like the country is on the retreat in a war that we are actually winning. The messaging is all wrong, and once again it was spoon-fed, unchallenged, by our media.

 

Shops have been open in England for precisely a month, today, and the Covid statistics have gone in the right direction across the entire month. Reopening has been an unqualified success, from a healthcare perspective, the issue is that customers have not been returning to shops fast enough.

I have heard the argument that mandatory masks will give customers more confidence and they will go out and shop more. I doubt it. My experience from France tells me that happy people spend, and forcing people to believe that they should be ruled by fear will not move the needle in the right direction.

I hope I am wrong.

If masks help, then why not let retailers decide whether to make them mandatory, which is pretty much the situation today?

This would allow employers to use masks among the many measures they adopt to protect staff and customers, but it would not be a regressive step generating appalling headlines that drain any rising confidence from the public.

8 Comments

  1. Not sure I fully agree. Other than with everything you say about the govt’s appalling handing of all of the early stages of C19.
    If we say that other govts were faster to respond and went in earlier and harder and we admire that approach, as well as agreeing it was more effective than our own, then it is easy to make the argument that the UK govt has learnt from its mistakes and is going in hard and early on the 2nd wave. If France, like some other countries, starts to experience another increase in C19 and the UK doesn’t then we will be praising the UK for finally being ahead of the game. Wearing a mask while shopping seems a very small imposition to me.

    1. Well, you all made terrible mistakes by even locking down in the first place. Im from Sweden and we have been able to keep our ICUs available although we kept open. Seems like UK, France, Germant etc all have been scared by their media and politicians. I think its time for you to stop being afraid and hide behind masks and Enjoy life again.

  2. Hi Rob, thanks for sharing. It was both optimistic and refreshing. I agree there has been a lot of fear-mongering on the mainstream media and lack of willingness to see both sides of the story so it is good to see something that is a break from that.

    And it is not just the fear-mongering, it’s hostility too. Particularly, about the wearing of face masks. It seems to be a divisive issue. On the one hand, you have people who are fervently opposed because they see it as an attack on their personal freedom and on the other, mask zealots who condemn them those who don’t. It creates a hostile atmosphere and I find that it puts me off from going out.

  3. I disagree. Compulsory use of seatbelts was angrily protested but that hasn’t exactly stopped car use has it? Covid-19 won’t be the last or the worst of these outbreaks and the sooner we get used to that idea, the better. It strikes me that the tone being adopted by those who don’t like face masks is akin to that of a toddler refusing to put on shoes. Think of others, put a mask on. It’s not exactly a huge imposition, now is it?

    1. I don’t like wearing a face mask (who does?), but have been wearing one on trains and any shop that asks me to. My problem is with the timing of a headline-generating policy change that says to me we are losing when all evidence shows we are beating the virus. Had this been announced at the start, peak or even the day non-essential retail reopened, it would have done no damage and we would only be debating whether there is any health benefit, a topic on which there is little consensus.

      1. The problem is, it’s easy to turn the issue into a political debate. Our government is a second rate Home Counties marketing agency floundering out of its depth. Ill-timed vague messages, conflicting arguments and confusing waffle are their stock in trade. Do you even trust the figures they release? The fact remains that the NHS, the WHO, the CDC and other medical and scientific organisations around the world strongly advocate the use of face masks in controlling the spread of airborne respiratory infections. This based on epidemiological research. The virus hasn’t gone away, there is no vaccine and we have yet to enter the traditional flu season. Punting and hoping may be a political strategy but I will continue to take suitable precautions, particularly as they constitute a minor inconvenience at most.

  4. Let me start by saying that the global response to the virus has been dismal – the most obvious statement ever made. Governments have implemented measure that put us all on this Procrustean bed without analyzing how to protect those at risks while at the same time letting those that are still able to work – ie not at a high risk of contracting the disease – keep the the economy going.
    Now there is another chasm between those who wear masks and those who feel their freedoms are being contravened because they have to wear masks. I do not know which is right, all I know is that some people wear masks not because of fear but out of respect: I have older parents who are at risk so that is why I do it and that is why I would appreciate you do it too. I am not afraid of the virus, if it is meant for me to catch it and suffer the consequences, then I am ok with that. The media will continue to push their rhetoric; they are a business after all and the truth is not their goal.
    Furthermore, your argument is facile. Ok people do not wear masks and come visit our shops, awesome now you are putting the people at the shops at risks. Someone gets sick in that store and now they have to quarantine and perhaps the store has to close as well. Great now you are back to square one.

    I loathe wearing a mask but I will continue to do so.

  5. Great vid…nothin* to be afraid of…unless you are already very ill…or over 80….the whole thing is a scam from China….!

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Rob Corder

The author Rob Corder